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Outdoors: Blowing In The Wind

Fall leaves
National Geographic
National Geographic

Usually, the words of a research biologist would not be considered creative writing, but the essays of the esteemed Aldo Leopold read like poetry.

“The wind that makes music in November corn is in a hurry. The stalks hum, the loose husks whisk skyward in half-playing swirls, and the wind hurries on . . . A tree tries to argue, bare limbs waving, but there is no detaining the wind.”

In November, tree limbs in a forest do wave, but in moderate winds, the boughs rarely break.

A scientist would write something like "swaying is a tree's natural method to dissipate energy applied by the winds."

I prefer the explanation given by Wall Street Journal columnist Helen Czerski, who says “Trees sway when pushed. A completely rigid tree would snap in a strong wind, but because wood is flexible, trees behave like upside-down pendulums: The base is fixed, and the top rocks from side to side."

Surprisingly, forest trees gain an extra advantage by swaying.

A healthy tree avoids damage if its branches collide with the branches of other trees, which apparently reduces the force of the wind.

Admittedly, some tree species are more resilient than others, and of course, gale force winds can decimate a forest.

The answers, my friends, are blowing in the wind, but recent research has revealed that trees actually need wind.

They need to sway and move in order to survive. Wind causes stress, and trees compensate by developing stronger wood.

And that is good, because in November, there really is no detaining the wind.

"Outdoors with Coggin Heeringa" can be heard every Wednesday on Classical IPR.